When I was asked if I would like to go riding in Navajo country, a fistful of Clint Eastwood films flashed before my eyes. Next morning I found myself standing in a corral in Arizona's Canyon de Chelly, watching the horses being saddled.
I pushed my Stetson down firmly and tried to appear nonchalant. Our guide, Eddie Draper, looked only marginally less like a cowboy than I did mainly because he was an Indian. His long hair hung loose, and he rode so well he seemed part of the horse.
We set off down a steep bank and there ahead was a fast, wide river. I vaguely wondered why I couldn't see a track on the other side. But Eddie was riding straight into the water. This was much too much like the movies.
Eddie explained we were going to get into the middle of the river and then ride up it. "Follow me," he shouted. "That way you'll avoid the quicksand." Quicksand? Was he joking? No, he wasn't. To the sound of splashing hooves, we rode up a canyon with sandstone cliffs to the side and blue sky above.
There was a noisier but apparently less hazardous way of exploring the flooded canyon: a four-wheel-drive amphibian roared up behind us, with 20 or so tourists who could safely be described as seniors. Fifteen minutes later we caught up with their vehicle, stuck in quicksand. It was tilting frighteningly, but another truck soon showed up and towed them clear.
The drama wasn't over, however. After a couple of hours, as we turned for home, one of our party had a problem with her saddle. Eddie rode up to help, but as he dismounted, his horse cut loose and galloped into the water, shooting past me with wings of foam flying up on either side of it.
Eddie's Navajo partner, Jerry Mitchell, set off in pursuit, lasso in hand. Then the runaway turned and headed back towards me. Suddenly Eddie and Jerry were shouting at me: "Grab that horse!" Who did they think I was, Kevin Costner? I leaned over and grabbed the loose horse's saddle. For a moment, I was suspended, holding on to one horse with my hand and another with my legs.
I let go, to shouts of dismay from Eddie and Jerry as the horse headed off down the river. Jerry gave chase, and tossed his lasso straight over the runaway's head.
We made it back to the corral, soaking wet and sorry that it was over. On horseback has to be the best way to explore Navajo territory.